We will never know how many lives ‘Tex ’ Harris saved by his decision to confront the radical evil of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. But I do know that Tex, then a newly arrived junior diplomat at the US Embassy, halted mass murder, simply by keeping a record of the people who were to be obliterated from existence under the military’s plan to wipe out subversion.
It was an extraordinarily brave act of conscience and a supreme act of courage that almost cost Tex his career, while endangering his life and that of his wife Jeanie.
Now, looking back, I realise that it was natural for Tex – a man of enormous generosity who had a great gift for friendship – to do the right thing. Undoubtedly, he was the right man for that time in Argentina when basic human decency was lacking on all sides. He realised that he could use Jimmy Carter’s human rights policy to save lives by reporting what was happening in the country back to Washington and by keeping lists of the missing. Gradually the truth about what was happening in Argentina got out to the outside world.
Argentina had been under the military boot for almost half a century when the Armed Forces seized power on March 24, 1976, to put an end to an insurgency. The plan chosen was the equivalent of the Nazi’s “Final Solution” for the Jews: Annihilation. As former dictator Jorge Rafael Videla revealed shortly before his death in prison in 2013, Argentina’s version was called the “Final Disposition.” It called for the cold-blooded murder of all suspects and the obliteration of their identities. It was political genocide.
Tex worked closely with the Buenos Aires Herald and the diplomats of democratic nations to protect human rights. We formed a life-long friendship. That enabled me to follow his career in the foreign service, which took him and Jeanie to Africa and Australia.
I was also with him on two of his return visits to Argentina. The latest was as an official guest of US president Barack Obama. He was honoured by the Argentine government with the highest award granted to a foreigner. Although shunted off the track that leads to an ambassadorship, Tex was justly honoured by his peers in the American Foreign Service Association, for which he served as president and in many other roles. In time he was officially recognised for his service to the United States and human rights.
We were in touch up to almost the very last moment of his life. I had spinal surgery recently and Tex set out to cheer me up, by telling me some Irish jokes from his repertoire. He was a great man.